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Speaking to the Soul: Everything’s Under Control

Speaking to the Soul: Everything’s Under Control

Week of Last Epiphany, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

 

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Deuteronomy 7:12-16

Titus 2:1-15

John 1:35-48

Our second reading today comes from a period in history when Christian leaders worked hard to get the Jesus movement under control. This letter, traditionally attributed to Paul, probably comes from a later generation of Christians concerned with how elders and bishops used their authority . . . and with giving Christians a good reputation.

This passage is all about getting things under control. Older men should be “temperate, serious,” etc.; older women should be “reverent in behavior,” etc.; younger women should be “submissive to their husbands,” etc.; younger men should be “self-controlled.” Slaves should be “submissive to their masters”; they should never “talk back.”

Above all, these early Christians wanted to show the world that they could control themselves and each other. The bishops and elders had to make sure that Christians would never be in the papers (so to speak). And the leaders in the emerging Christian hierarchy had to take special care of their own reputations, so that any potential opponents would have “nothing evil to say of us.”

That’s what was starting to matter most to these Christians: getting everyone under control so that no one could say anything negative about them. Are these our priorities today? Are our exercises of self-discipline, our pursuit of morality, our shows of repentance primarily oriented toward protecting our reputations? Or are they oriented toward purging ourselves of inauthenticity, and seeking true change and real freedom?

One verse stood out to me from this letter addressed to a bishop: “tell your older women . . . not to be . . . slaves to drink.” On the one hand, this verse seems to go hand-in-hand with all the other rubbish about domesticating Christians into good little housewives and into compliant slaves. But on the other hand, this verse reflects an earlier Christian commitment: proclaiming that Christians should be slaves to nothing and no one–in this case, not to alcohol.

Imagine if that were the priority of Christians everywhere: the pursuit of real freedom from all the substances, stereotypes, and systems that enslave us. Imagine if it weren’t acceptable to plead that we were simply “unable” to recognize the signs that someone in our sphere of responsibility, or merely in our midst, was enslaved in the ways that the Scripture warns us about. Imagine if we couldn’t claim that we simply didn’t have the right information, or that our processes were faulty.

Then we’d be well on our way to the true repentance that Lent demands, and to the true freedom it promises, when a people comes back to God through Christ.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal.  She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps  program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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Jean Lall

“Imagine if that were the priority of Christians everywhere: the pursuit of real freedom from all the substances, stereotypes, and systems that enslave us. Imagine if it weren’t acceptable to plead that we were simply “unable” to recognize the signs that someone in our sphere of responsibility, or merely in our midst, was enslaved in the ways that the Scripture warns us about. Imagine if we couldn’t claim that we simply didn’t have the right information, or that our processes were faulty.

“Then we’d be well on our way to the true repentance that Lent demands, and to the true freedom it promises, when a people comes back to God through Christ.”

Yes, imagine that each of us, through prayer and devotion and hard work, attained to the gifts of omniscience and infallibility. Imagine that I could be like God and from me no secrets could be hid. Imagine my fellow parishioners and parish clergy being magically empowered to maintain surveillance over my innermost thoughts and desires, and thus be accountable if I were ever to act upon the worst of them. Imagine that God’s holy angels remodeled our institutional structures and processes, rendering them also infallible. And maybe repaired structural damage to the buildings while they were at it. . . .

Lent is about coming to grips with our mortality, meaning our finitude, our human limits. Maybe a good discipline for Lent would be to give up inflated control fantasies. We need to repent of what is within our control, and also to recognize what is beyond us. Failing to be omniscient is not sinful; trying to be omniscient or demanding that others be omniscient is sinful.

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